A HOME theater. A heated bathtub. A well-stocked bar. Video games.
No, these are not amenities in a mansion in Ayala-Alabang’s millionaire’s row.
They are the perks enjoyed by VIP inmates at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City. The “lavish” lifestyle was revealed on Monday when the National Bureau of Investigation and Philippine National Police raided the building that housed mainly Chinese nationals doing time for drug trafficking.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ordered the raid several weeks after ABS CBN ran an expose on anomalies inside Bilibid. The network found the facility to be a wonderland for “high-value” prisoners. Drugs and booze are readily available. Prostitution is thriving. There are karaoke bars. Internet and cellphone connections allow drug lords to run their business from their cell. Killers for hire are let loose to carry out contracts outside, and return after they’ve made a hit.
What is appalling is that this sordid state of affairs in Bilibid has become so ingrained it will take a superhuman effort of the government to dismantle it. Many a prison warden tried, but all they could manage was to leave a small dent.
Malacañang made the perfunctory show of concern before tossing the problem to Secretary de Lima. Bilibid is a facility under the Bureau of Corrections, and the bureau is part of Secretary de Lima’s turf.
Monday’s raid is a good start, but it just scratches the surface. The Justice secretary must prove that she has the determination to probe deeper into the problem and expose its roots.
Bilibid is a sprawling 551-hectare facility built in 1936 to house about 9,000 inmates. As of last count, there are 23,000 or so prisoners in Bilibid. This overflow of humanity is an integral part of the problem, authorities say. Congestion is always fertile ground for social dysfunction. An article on the Preda (People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance) website, “The Condition of Philippine Prisons and Jails” gives an indictment of life behind bars.
“Herding individuals in cramped spaces is cruel, inhuman, ill, degrading, and unjust punishment,” the article noted. “Overcrowding is dangerous to health and to human life. It breeds diseases, breaks down discipline and exacerbates tensions. Having to fight for air and space 24 hours a day make prison, in the words of inmates, a living death.”
The misery doesn’t end there: “Add dirty tap water, dingy toilets, substandard meals, gang war, poorly trained guards and prison administrators, favoritism, and you have a system built for punishment, not for rehabilitation.”
The Bureau of Corrections Act was passed in 2013 precisely to address the problems that besiege Bilibid. Among the law’s prominent provisions is the transfer of the national penitentiary from Muntinlupa to Laur, Nueva Ecija by, 2019. The Laur facility has 500 hectares and can accommodate 26,000 inmates.
There is a hitch: the transfer will require over P50.2 billion. So far the government has not been able to raise the money for it. P437 million was initially earmarked for it, but even that allocation was deleted from the national budget.
Until the Bureau of Corrections Act is fully implemented, Bilibid will change little. The challenge Secretary de Lima faces is formidable. We hope she is up to it.